The G20 with India’s presidency has truly evolved from an organization focused merely on matters of economic and financial global governance to one which plans for a comprehensive global governance architecture. The Supreme Audit Institution 20 (SAI20) engagement group’s agenda of deliberating on the Blue Economy and Responsible Artificial Intelligence (AI) bears testimony to this evolution. The SAI20’s agenda of Responsible AI coincides with the rise in debates about data privacy, the opaque nature of predictions by AI-driven systems, disruptions in employment scenarios and the need for an innovative governance architecture to cater for it.
Although it is crucial to note that AI is just one of the many emerging disruptive technologies. The UNCTAD’s Technology and Innovation Report, 2021 mentions 11 frontier technologies – AI, IoT, big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, gene editing, nanotechnology and solar photovoltaic, which will drive the fourth industrial revolution. These technologies are estimated to have a global market size of $3.2 Trillion by 2025, with AI, IoT and robotics accounting for around $2.2 Tn of the market share. The SAI20’s agenda now gives us an opportunity to take a macro outlook of the economy and how our lives may be changed by Industry 4.0.
With an increase in mobile and internet penetration in India, citizens from the remotest parts of the country are able to access online services. This has led to an increase in the customer base of digitally native firms and increased their Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). Consequently, many of these firms have increased their offerings to include e-commerce, OTT content, payment wallets and gateways, healthcare service provisioning, food delivery, consumer durables etc., to make an individual part of their digital ecosystem. “Hey Alexa, add sugar-free to my shopping cart, dim the lights in the drawing room and load The Departed movie on my TV screen”, summarizes the comprehensive offerings of digitally native businesses today.
Such integrated offerings create a flywheel effect for the business in two ways – it gets data on an individual from all walks of life and keeps the consumer roped in within one digital ecosystem. Further, Deep Learning and Machine Learning algorithms are used to process this data to make predictions and generate behavior-modifying nudges. Through this these applications increase the resonance between digital and limbic systems leading to habit-forming behaviors, you tend to be dependent on them eventually to guide you. Kai-Fu Lee in his seminal work AI2041 paints a picture of an insurance firm to show us how this is done. Imagine an insurance firm which tracks your medical history, location and vitals through your smartwatch. It can then know which risk-prone localities you visit, what you eat and how such actions are affecting your health. And based on this data it can revise your annual premium.
At this juncture arise some significant questions of ethics and policy. Should the user have the right to demand cross-platform linkages of her household devices for IoT services? Does the user have the right to choose the type of data and the extent of its use – temporal and spatial – Does the user have a right to be forgotten? If the risk-prone areas are income based then will it not create class divides? If the nudges for healthy foods are not based on local produce will it not in turn hamper one’s gut biota? So we can see that the use of frontier technologies raises foundational questions of privacy, freedom of choice, national fraternity and integrity.
Till this point, we have seen the invasive nature of frontier technology. But there is another aspect to be considered. Humans have voluntarily adopted technologies which have made them productive and eased their lives. Humankind adopted and harnessed coal and crude oil to build the modern world. It was much later that we realized the pitfalls of not using them in moderation. Similarly, the voluntary uptake of frontier technologies is happening today in India in the absence of any governance architecture to monitor its use. This is happening at a time when humans have already evolved into a cyber physical beings. To understand this nuance just see difference between the computational intelligence of a person with and without a smartphone. There are also innovations like the Neuralink which create a high bandwidth brain-machine interface to connect humans and computers. And this becomes a case of voluntary acceptance of an invasive system.
Given the widespread and deep effects of frontier technologies SAI20 needs to deliberate upon some fundamental questions. Which stakeholders should be a part of framing a regulatory system for frontier technologies? Should there be a global ethic or a local ethic to guide the creation of algorithms for such systems? How do we create a balance between the right of nations to govern such technologies in their sovereign jurisdiction and having a multilateral framework for their governance? What kind of bodies should be set up to adjudicate cross-border cases related to frontier technologies?
Shakespeare had famously written, “There is a tide in affairs of men. Which taken at flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all voyages of their life are bound in shallows and miseries.” The contemporary relevance of this is loud in the age of Industry 4.0. This revolution should be harnessed by India and the world for the prosperity of all. But there lies a caveat, to ride this technological wave, we first need a safe policy vest.